Build-a-bear cake pan

I bought a Build-a-bear cake pan from Williams-Sonoma for Christmas. This was meant as a Christmas present for my wife, however because I do the baking it's really the CAKES that are the present, and thus we tried making one of these cakes over the weekend to give it a trial run before Christmas.
Things didn't start off well because the cake pan was defective. The pan's finish wasn't properly applied and had a big crack, and part of it was flaking off. I recommend that anyone planning to buy one of these carefully examine it in the store. The boxes can be opened without destroying them so the store staff shouldn't mind.

After exchanging the pan, I followed the recipe on the back of the box. The box comes with a recipe for a bundt cake that is quite easy to make. The cake tasted great, although you can use any recipe you want, as long as the cake is dense enough to stand up on its own. My only complaint is that the recipe is printed on the box, when it should be a paper insert instead. Now I have to transcribe it. I've noticed this defect with every Williams-Sonoma cake pan. I guess it saves on packaging, but please, these pans aren't cheap. At least give us a sheet of paper!

Assembling the 3-D bear isn't hard at all. After the cake has finished baking, you cool it for a few minutes in the pan, remove it from the pan, cool it some more, then put it back in the pan. This process takes a few hours in total. When the cake is fully cooled, you put it back in the pan so that you can cut off the extra that rises above the pan. Then you spread icing on half, and put the other half on top, then pop it into the fridge so that the icing can set. We had a slight problem: the cake didn't come cleanly out of the pan the second time, so one half of the bear was decapitated. Luckily we were able to repair it with some icing and skewers; in the end the damage wasn't noticeable.

Decorating the finished cake is the hard part. I had a lot of difficulty applying the glaze and the brown sugar which simulates the fur. The Williams-Sonoma website has a how-to video which shows a woman applying the "fur". I notice that her cake doesn't look as good as the one on the box (though it is far better looking than mine). In the end the fur was so difficult that I think my next cake will just use a glaze or icing fur. My "furry" bear appears to have some kind of odd patchy disease. Maybe next time I'll try to make some fondant to clothe the bear; at least then you don't need to put as much fur on.

Despite the bear's poor appearance, it was a lot of fun to make and delicious to eat. Hopefully in a couple weeks I'll have perfected my technique.

The man from Williams-Sonoma eventually did mail me the Santa Template. Stay tuned; next Christmas I'll try it out. Also, I eventually did make a new bear. It turned out better.

Fedora 10

I recently installed Fedora 10. I had to because Fedora 8 stopped working for me: the Fedora 8 kernel stopped working with my network card and then a recent update broke something to do with permissions, so I could no longer use my soundcard or cdrom using a normal user account, I had to use the root superuser account. This was extremely annoying. Since Fedora 8 was end-of-life, I decided to upgrade to the latest shiny toy.

Fedora 10 supposedly has a lot of improvements, including flicker free boot (the boot process normally switches video modes a lot and blanks the screen a handful of times), faster performance, more up-to-date software, and lots of systematic improvements. Many of these improvements are true improvements but I have run into some issues.


Installing Fedora 10 was rather annoying. For some reason the installer kept crashing just before it finished putting the packages on the disk. I suspect the notebook was overheating, which I blame on insufficient power management software during the install. It could be related to the graphics driver used by the installer, but I couldn't verify this since you can't install a graphics driver for the installer and I couldn't figure out how to enable text mode. I was able to complete the install by selecting fewer packages and by propping the notebook up so that there was more airflow underneath it. Not a good first impression.

Hardware support

It seems that my hardware works better now with Fedora 10 than it did before. In Fedora 8 I had endless problems with the Wireless networking, but it seems to be working reliably now. It still crashes (just the wifi driver) but the system recovers fairly quickly and reconnects to the network. Better than Fedora 8, for which 90% of kernels wouldn't even CONNECT to my WAP.

The free nVidia driver that ships with Fedora works too, which is also better than F8's, which didn't work and caused the notebook to hang. But I use the binary driver anyway, so that's not a problem.

Software Installation

Fedora 10 comes with a new software management tool, PackageKit, which replaces whatever was there before. If only it worked! The KDE version, kpackagekit, is completely broken. I can't get it to do anything, it just hangs and (if running from a terminal) prints garbage on the screen. So I had to use the gnome version, which isn't fun in KDE because there's no icon, and you have to just know that the magic incantation isn't gpackagekit but rather gpk-application. Naturally! Anyway, the Gnome version works... sorta. When you are installing packages, you click a checkbox to say "I choose this to install", but if you search for more packages you can't tell what packages are queued for install. For example, let's say you search for "mp3" to find the mp3 codecs, and pick a package to install. Then you search for "media", to find a media player. If your codec package is in the media player list, it appears unchecked even though you have selected it already. There doesn't seem to be a way to see what you have selected to install. This isn't a big deal until you want to deselect something... I had hundreds of packages selected to install when it told me "oh, this package conflicts with another one you already have..." and there was nothing for me to do but start over.

One improvement in the software update area is the taskbar notification. Now you are notified about what updates are available and you can choose to install security updates or all updates. Only after choosing which updates to install are you prompted for the root password.

Synaptics Touchpad annoyances

I had a heck of a time dealing with the touchpad. For those of you who don't have a notebook, you can't understand what an irritating thing a touchpad is. It's like a trap waiting for the slightest touch of your finger to wreak havoc on your careful typing. In Windows the touchpad driver usually disables the touchpad while you type. Such functionality is available in Linux too, but for some reason doesn't seem to be enabled by default.

In days of yore I used ksynaptics to control the touchpad. It's a nice graphical tool which lets you customize the touchpad's behaviour, and it can also turn the touchpad off while you type. For one reason or another it doesn't work in Fedora 10 (even though it's part of the distribution, it's completely broken). I followed these instructions to enable ksynaptics but then was stymied by some version mismatch between ksynaptics and the synaptics driver. Doubly broken! Luckily, there was another web site which explained an alternate method of disabling the touchpad: run a program in the background. I had to set up this program twice, once for me and once for my wife's login session.... sigh. This should be default behaviour! It should be configurable! Tools which ship with the distro should work! But given KDE's second-class-citizen status in Fedora, I guess I'm not surprised.


Fedora 10 ships with KDE 4.1.3. This is the latest bleeding edge KDE release, with all the cool new stuff. Unfortunately, KDE 4 is in my opinion a major regression from KDE 3. There are lots of new things and I'm sure lots of imnprovements somewhere, but sweet ginger chicken are there ever a lot of problems.
First, the Desktop has been totally neutered. Ever since the days of Windows 95 normal humans have stored files on their desktop. All kinds of files, from icons for starting programs, to downloaded files, arranged in any way you like. KDE 4 has no such feature. For some reason they decided that the desktop wasn't a place for files. But because people complained they made an applet (called a widget) which shows you the contents of any folder. Guess what? I have a folder called, gee, Deskop? and I want it shown on my Desktop? except this looks like crap and did I mention it's SLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW? Clicking on an icon in this file-viewer widget brings my dual-core, 2.2 gHz, 2GB RAM machine to its knees, where it promptly faints. What the heck is wrong with these widgets? And why CAN'T I just have files on the desktop? Ok, the concept of widgets is cool, and I like how KDE does it better than Vista, but PLEASE! I want to put files there!

There are several other major problems with KDE4. Some of these are, I'm sure, integration problems because KDE is always an afterthought for the Fedora developers. They just cram it in next to Gnome, spit on it, then wipe it with a snotty handkerchief to shine it up a bit. Gnome is Red Hat's precious child, a relic of the days when KDE had licensing problems, and thus always gets preferential treatment from the Fedora devs. But I digress: I was ranting about KDE.

The main problem is that the file management widget was completely changed and is now very hard for me to use. It used to be you clicked on a file to select it, and double-clicked to activate it. Not anymore: now you click on it to activate it, and... well, I'm not sure how to just select it. I guess nobody needs to do that? Oh wait... I do. And there doesn't seem to be any option to customize this behaviour. KDE 1.0 had single-click activation, back when MS did the same in Windows 95 + IE 4.0, but there was an option to turn it off and the default became double-click not long after. I find that I need to activate files in the file manager far less often than I need to select them. Thus the KDE file manager went from being awesome, in KDE 3, to useless, in KDE 4. Plus they replaced Konqueror with Dolphin, which I'm not sure is an improvement, but anyway Konq has the same stupid file manager component, so even it has the dumb single-click "feature".

Finally, overall it seems that lots of KDE bits have lots a lot of features. The panel used to be very customizable, now it isn't. For one thing, I used to be able to specify how wide the task-manager applet was, now I can't. There are other examples I can't think of at this time. I used to be able to set a wallpaper to fill the screen according to its maximum dimension; now that feature is gone. I used to be able to configure a bunch of things, but now the configuration options are missing. I used to be able to store files on my desktop, but I've already discussed that. Still bugs me though.

Chinese input

At last it becomes relatively easy to set up Chinese input for all programs. The SCIM tool finally works reliably in KDE and GTK apps. You can install SCIM and the SCIM-QT bridge, log out and log back in, and you can enter your Chinese characters. It doesn't work as well as the Windows Vista Chinese IME (which is awesome) but it works fairly well. This is one thing I am really pleased to see. I have typed a couple of documents in Chinese using OpenOffice and there have been no issues with the input. For some reason, though, OpenOffice printed my Chinese document as a nice page of little boxes. Hm.


Fedora 10 (KDE mode) is clearly a beta-quality release. Much of the blame here has to be laid at the feet of the KDE devs, who have released an immature product as if it were ready for prime-time. It is not. But there are so many other glitchy problems with this Fedora release that I wonder how I'd fare in Gnome-land. Is this solely due to the difficulty in packaging KDE 4 for Fedora? Some of the problems, like the synaptics driver and the package-kit problems are clearly infrastructure related, and KDE is not to blame here. Overall I am disappointed with Fedora 10's quality but I am pleased with its goals and feature set. I hope the quality issues can be resolved with some updates and maybe Fedora 11 will fully meet the expectations everyone had for this one.


It's funny that Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament today so that he could spend a few weeks doing damage control, while claiming that the Opposition were behaving undemocratically. The problem with his argument is the assumption that people vote for the government. Sorry, they don't. They can't, in fact, because they only get to cast one vote and that's for their local MP. Given that, if a bunch of MPs form a party, and that party forms the government, how is it more or less democratic if the party is one of the "standard" parties, or is actually a coalition? All those MPs were elected democratically.

What's undemocratic is having the Governor General decide to suspend parliament. She did this at the request of the PM, but that's not democracy, unless you can prove that the majority of the MPs currently sitting in parliament supported proroguing. I'm not too surprised that Michaƫlle Jean sided with Mr. Harper, but I am disappointed. Here we have a chance for real democracy, even if it's unconventional, but she has decided to instead waste time and give Harper an undeserved reprieve.

Bias alert: I voted against Harper and generally don't like him or his party. That said, I don't have a lot of confidence in the Liberals either, but Dion is on his way out, so that should help. I don't know whose approach is best for the country, Harper or Dion Ignatief Rae. But I feel that a coalition government is as valid as a normal government, and Mr. Harper should do the right thing and step aside.